Chesterton Tribune

ArcelorMittal dedicates new heat-treat line at 160 inch plate mill

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By KEVIN NEVERS

ArcelorMittal’s re-engineered, upgraded, and rationalized heat-treat line at Burns Harbor’s 160-inch plate mill was dedicated on Thursday.

For customers in the machinery, mining, construction, and defense industries, the state-of-the-art line means the finest, best performing steel plate available anywhere.

For the company, it means a significantly reduced cycle time, more consistent on-time deliveries, and a big savings on fuel consumption.

For Steelworkers Local 6787, the nearly $65-million investment is a promise made good on by ArcelorMittal, evidence of the company’s commitment to capital improvements at the Burns Harbor facility formalized in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached with the union late in the precipice year of 2008.

Begin with the rationalization of the heat-treat line. Plate in the old line was produced in a first-in/last out sequence because, that is to say, the first plate heat-treated in a batch would be at the bottom of the stack. The new line operates on a first-in/first-out basis, which has reduced the cycle time from as long as two weeks to as short as three days, said John Mengel, chief operating officer for ArcelorMittal USA Plate Operations.

The line, furthermore, has been radically automated and, while leading the press in a tour of the control “pulpit,” Mengel noted that operators now pretty much need only to “point-and-click.”

The jewel of the new line, however, is the largest and most sophisticated leveler in the world—laser-gauged and designed to handle plate thicknesses from 3/8’’ to 4’’—finished by an automated blasting, painting, and stenciling sequence.

Fuel savings: 10 percent per ton shipped.

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“The market has become increasingly competitive in quality, cycle time, and delivery performance,” Mengel said. “We invested in our existing operations, which were built in 1966, in order to meet current and future market demand for on-time quality deliveries.”

“ArcelorMittal, in partnership with United Steelworkers Local 6787, is pleased with the commitment of its employees and contractors to safely complete the project, positioning ArcelorMittal to be a low-cost supplier of choice for the plate market,” Mengel added.

“It’s not very often we get a chance to participate in history,” ArcelorMittal USA President and CEO Mike Rippey said. “This is evidence of the rebirth of manufacturing in the U.S. It will allow for the long-term sustainability of jobs. And that translates into families, housing, education. And we believe it also translates into our communities.”

For Local 6787 President Paul Gipson, the re-engineered heat-treat line represents, at long last, the fulfillment of a potential which the bankrupt Bethlehem Steel Company had always failed to act on. “What Bethlehem once dreamed of has become a reality,” he said.

But the line represents something else for Gipson: the fulfillment of the memorandum of understanding reached in 2008 between the company and the union.

Gipson recalled 2007, the year in which ArcelorMittal—then simply Mittal—acquired the assets of International Steel Group. “It was a good year,” he remembered, “and we thought it would stay that way forever. But in the real world things do change and it was like somebody flipped a switch.”

So when, in late 2008, ArcelorMittal formally warned the Local 6787 of the likelihood of some 2,500 layoffs at the Burns Harbor facility, the union succeeded in negotiating a layoff minimization plan which included the MOU, under which the company committed to making large-scale capital investments in the plant. The re-engineered heat-treat line, Gipson said, is at least partially the fruit of that MOU. “It demonstrates a confidence in the talent and ethic of the workforce that I have represented for many years.”

“ArcelorMittal chose to invest here in Northwest Indiana, where we have quality workmanship and a quality workforce, when they could have chosen to invest anywhere in the world,” noted State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. “When I see this and then hear people say that manufacturing is dead in America, I just laugh.”

And U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, released this statement: “The importance of this project lies not only in the jobs created during construction, or the enhancement of current steelworker jobs, but also in the significant economic investment that demonstrates ArcelorMittal has confidence that the best place to produce steel is right here in Northwest Indiana.”

Meanwhile, in Gary

The heat-treat line is capable of producing three kinds of plate: a “normalized” product, fracture resistant in structures, puncture resistant in vessels; a quench product, for use in abrasion-resistant applications; and then the quench-and-temper product, designed specifically to a customer’s performance standards for high-strength applications.

In order to serve customers while the heat-treat line was being upgraded, production crews were transferred to the Gary facility. “It was critical that this transfer of employee talent was seamless to the market so customers would not experience any interruption in service or product quality,” the company said. “Just nine months after the planned outage, on April 2, 2012, the first plate was produced on the new line.”

Local 6787 Vice-President Pete Trinidad told the Chesterton Tribune that members transferred to the Gary facility performed outstandingly.

 

 

Posted 5/4/2012